Call it a strata. Call it a savory bread pudding. Or just call it just possibly the most brilliant make-ahead brunch item ever. In case you’ve never heard of a strata, or the thought of a savory bread pudding blows your mind, this dish is, at it’s heart, a bunch of toasted and/or stale bread that is soaked in an eggy custard, usually with some additional ingredients. (For those sticklers out there, strata and savory bread pudding are very slightly different: strata tends to have a higher egg-to-milk ratio than bread pudding. Notice I emphasize “savory” on the bread pudding because they can be either sweet or savory but stratas are always savory.)
What makes it brilliant is that once you assemble it, you can put it in the fridge overnight! The next morning, pull it out of the fridge to come to room temperature while you brew some coffee and wake up. Then just slide that puppy into the oven and by the time everyone else wakes up it’s ready: golden brown and crunchy on top, and soft, pillowy, and scrumptious when you dig down inside.
Those additional ingredients I mentioned above are what give the savory bread pudding/strata its personality. They will also enable to you to clear out your fridge of leftover ingredients that you aren’t quite sure what to do with.
The recipe I’ve prepared here is hearty and rich, filled with nuggets of smoked sausage, sweet roasted red bell pepper, nutty creamy fontina cheese, and earthy thyme. But you can use this as your springboard, much like the frittata I recently wrote about.
Some other great combinations:
- sautéed greens such as spinach or chard, caramelized onions, and gruyere cheese
- cherry tomato, sautéed spinach, and feta
- smoked ham, asparagus, and cheddar
- thinly sliced and seared zucchini, crumbled bacon, and goat cheese
- sautéed wild mushrooms, fresh herbs, and fontina
Savory Sausage, Roasted Pepper, and Thyme Bread Pudding
- One 1-lb loaf French or Italian bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
- Olive oil
- 1 lb of your favorite smoked sausages, such as herbed pork, spicy Italian, whisky-maple, or chicken-apple (I used Fra’Mani Savory Herb Pork)
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
- Kosher salt
- One 10-oz jar roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
- 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh thyme
- 3 cups shredded fontina, Gruyere, or Cheddar
- 9 large eggs
- 2 1/4 cups whole milk
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
- Preheat the oven to 375F. Spread the bread on a baking sheet and toast in the oven, turning occasionally, until it starts to brown in places and begins to dry out, about 10 minutes.
- In a large, heavy frying pan over medium heat, add a glug of olive oil. When the oil is warm, add the sausages. Sear until nicely browned, about 7 minutes. Remove from the frying pan and cut into bite-size pieces when cool enough to handle. Discard all but 1 tbsp of the fat in the pan.
- In the same pan, melt the butter. Add the onions and a sprinkle of salt and sauté until the onions are golden brown and softened, about 10 minutes. Stir in the chopped roasted peppers, cooked sausage, and thyme. Remove from the heat and set aside.
- Grease a 9×13-inch glass or ceramic baking dish generously with butter. Add half of the bread cubes. Layer with two-thirds of the sausage mixture, then add a layer of half the cheese. Repeat the layering with half the remaining bread, then the remaining sausage mixture and cheese.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, mustard, 1 tsp salt, and ground black pepper. Pour this mixture evenly over the bread. Press the bread mixture down into the egg mixture to saturate. Cover the baking dish with plastic wrap and chill for at least 4 hours or overnight.
- The next day, remove the bread pudding from the refrigerator and let stand for 30 to 60 minutes to take the chill off. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake the bread pudding, uncovered, until golden brown, puffed, and cooked through, about 45 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.